Issue Briefs: Volume 6
Modern antitrust policy follows the consumer welfare principle (CWP), the proposition that antitrust policy should encourage markets to produce high output consistent with sustainable competition, and low prices. The market dominance of giant firms such as Amazon, however, is opening the door to a reevaluation of this antitrust standard, particularly from a new antitrust “movement” that has economic goals, such as protecting small businesses and controlling runaway profits, that can be at odds with promoting low prices. Penn Law and Wharton Professor Herbert Hovencamp evaluates the merits of three antitrust frameworks within the context of the law and economic history. While he acknowledges that business can cause harm to the lives of Americans in ways that extend beyond inflating prices—i.e., creating barriers to market entry, stifling innovation, controlling information, or limiting wages—he argues that the CWP remains best positioned to respond to antitrust problems, although it would benefit from technical improvements.
To the extent that immigration reform is discussed in terms of economics, the debate tends to focus exclusively on labor issues—specifically, how immigrants affect jobs and wages for native citizens. But to understand the economic effects of immigration, and thus develop sounder policies, policymakers need to consider how immigration affects all three core components of economic growth: not just labor, but capital and innovation too. In this brief, Professor Hernandez discusses new research showing that immigration produces gains for the U.S. economy with respect to capital and innovation. Immigrants help to attract investment from foreign firms and significantly increase bilateral trade flows between the U.S. and their home countries. Immigrants also account for roughly a quarter of all U.S. entrepreneurs. They not only generate novel businesses and inventions, but also introduce novel ideas that U.S. natives develop further to create new products and companies of their own. Just as importantly, labor, capital, and innovation are all interrelated. Failing to understand the multipli¬cative relationship between these three elements can result in botched economic policy.
Despite the vulnerability of America’s aging infrastructure to costly disruptions from man-made and natural disasters, infrastructure insurance under-utilized. On average, only 30% of catastrophic losses in the past 10 years have been covered by insurance. Most infrastructure project managers have relied instead on taxpayer-funded federal aid when disaster strikes. But it doesn’t need to be this way. In this brief, Gina Tonn, Jeffrey Czajkowski, and Howard Kunreuther use technical reports and input from infrastructure managers to outline steps that policymakers can take to help maximize the use of infrastructure insurance for providing financial protection, encouraging investment in loss mitigation measures, and limiting the current reliance on taxpayer dollars.
Advocates of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin believe that having currency competition will help achieve the economic objective of price stability. This Issue Brief summarizes research that explores whether competition among privately issued fiat currencies can actually produce price stability. The research finds that in most cases, a system of private monies does not deliver price stability. And even when it does, it always is subject to self-fulfilling inflationary episodes, and it supplies a suboptimal amount of money. Although there is no economic reason to curb the use of cryptocurrencies at the moment, it is important to review key regulatory issues that policymakers need to consider now, before the use of cryptocurrencies becomes even more widespread.
Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology promises to dramatically reduce deaths and economic losses from crashes caused by human error, increase mobility for those with disabilities, and revolutionize the auto industry. Yet legislation to facilitate oversight of the development and deployment of AVs is stalling in Congress. Professor John Paul MacDuffie offers a primer on AV technology policy, and discusses strategies for addressing safety and other public concerns while still facilitating AV innovation in the private sector.
The Other Side of a Merger: Labor Market Power, Wage Suppression, and Finding Recourse in Antitrust LawLabor market concentration can worsen after a merger takes place, and this heightened concentration can negatively affect wages. The focus of antitrust analysis, however, has been on the prices of consumer products, not the wages of laborers. New research indicates that, on average, labor markets are highly concentrated, and that higher concentration is associated with significantly lower posted wages for new jobs. This brief uses existing economic tools to develop a model for evaluating labor market concentration and its effects, to determine if a merger will run the risk of anticompetitively suppressing wages, employment, and output. Regulators can use this model to apply antitrust principles to labor markets, as a basis for antitrust enforcement.
Although cannabis-related businesses have thrived in the localities that have legalized marijuana as a consumer product, the industry has suffered from crippling uncertainty, in the form of limited access to the banking system. The cannabis industry thus has been forced to operate in a cash-intensive “gray market,” which is a problem. An entire industry conducting all of its business in cash cannot be fairly taxed or regulated and, historically, has been associated with lawlessness—everything from security concerns, transportation and currency problems, money laundering, and cash hoarding. This brief reviews and analyzes the issues that surround marijuana banking and offers several policy options for addressing the tension between federal enforcement and state sovereignty as it relates to marijuana banking.
One of the key features of the Dodd-Frank Act is that it imposes specific and costly regulatory requirements on banks that cross the threshold of having more than $10 billion in total assets. Anecdotal accounts have suggested that this threshold has led to increased consolidation in the banking industry. This brief provides new statistical evidence of that phenomenon. Banks that approach the $10 billion threshold are significantly more likely to engage in an acquisition, pay more for that acquisition, and acquire bigger target banks than similar banking institutions did prior to Dodd-Frank. To the extent that policymakers are concerned with further consolidation in the banking industry, these findings should be of interest as they continue to evaluate current regulations and develop new ones, which might include the use of bright line asset thresholds.